Illustration: Ashley Siebels
We’ve all seen it. Our inbox count rising by the second. The ignored “please do not Reply All” request. The question “why am I getting this?” that repeats again and again in a matter of minutes. You waste time fighting to delete the avalanche of e-mails.
The Reply-All-Ocaplyse has begun.
If you’ve started the thread — usually by accident — then you are a helpless spectator. If you’re a recipient, you’re probably annoyed and stopped reading the responses.
And who can forget the horror stories? One bank’s 250,000 employees spent hours in vain responding to a thread that sent Blackberrys buzzing for days. One reply-all chain tied up 1.2 million employees of the UK’s National Health Service. Time Inc. was rendered helpless last year by an hours-long chain. 450 journalists (including our editor) tested their wits against each other for hours — while others prayed for escape— on an email thread related to controversial pharmaceuticals CEO Martin Shkreli.
“There was a marketing assistant who was waiting for a large order of T-shirts for a convention with the company logo that everyone was to wear at the event,” reminisces career coach Jane Jackson. “The assistant had been hassled by a number of people about when they would arrive and when the box of shirts finally arrived he sent an e-mail to everyone stating in capital letters, “I’VE GOT THE SHIRTS!!”
Unfortunately the assistant forgot the “R.”
But this misery isn’t inevitable. This electronic scourge can be stopped.
Don’t enable ‘Reply All’
You can create an e-mail thread without the ability to REPLY ALL, nipping this professional annoyance in the bud.
For Microsoft Outlook users, you can remove the option from the toolbar, preventing the headache before it may ever begin. William Zhou lays out the steps on the Microsoft Office TechCenter site.
Another option for Outlook users is the TuneReplyAll — yeah, that’s the real site — add on for Outlook. This triggers a confirmation window that asks if you are sure you want to Reply All to this e-mail.
Gmail users in most cases are by default set only to reply to a single individual. But company admins can ensure this is the case for business e-mail accounts by adjusting the “default reply behavior,” in the settings menu.
You can always play it safe by crafting the e-mail and addressing the recipients in the BCC field. This prevents your eager e-mail readers who lack impulse control from replying back to everyone.
Mute the email thread
If you are on the receiving end of the REPLY ALL message torrent, simply muting your Gmail thread will prevent the notification alerts.
For Outlook users, there is an ignore feature under the home tab.
Delete your replies
On the other hand we’ve all experienced the sinking dread after we’ve sarcastically replied to an e-mail and realized you may have accidentally hit REPLY ALL. Some of us have dodged that bullet, breathing a sigh of relief. Others, unfortunately, have not— and, depending on the content, could be in serious professional jeopardy.
If you use Gmail or Outlook I urge you to set up the delayed e-mail function. This makes it easy to undo an e-mail up to 30 seconds after you click send. This is usually the window when you notice an egregious spelling error or that you absent-mindedly forgot to attach a file — or hit REPLY ALL with an inappropriate .gif response.
Apologize if all other options have been exhausted
“Of course, it’s better to think before you furiously type and click. But if the message has gone and you are not able to recall it, then it’s time to eat humble pie,” Jackson tells Ladders.
If you’re ever in this situation, don’t panic.
“Contact each recipient individually, explain what happened and apologize profusely. Don’t do this via e-mail. Pick up the phone to call them and apologize personally,” Jackson says. “The problem with e-mails is that tone of voice cannot be conveyed. You could say that your response was sent in haste and didn’t reflect what you really meant to express.”